Camping At The William Brien Memorial Shelter in Harriman State Park
When you arrive at Silver Mine Lake the first thing you notice is what looks like an old ski area. The mountain rising in front of you is wonderful during the winter months when many families trek to the hill to sled down the snowy slope. If you look real close you can see the old bones of the rope tow system that were used to bring skiers up to the top. The Silver Mine Ski Center closed in the 1980’s but there are still plenty of folks out there that reminisce about their days skiing there.
The lake is to your left when you drive into the parking area and the shallow portion is reminiscent of a swampy bog. You can launch a kayak or canoe from that area to get to the small lake where fishing is allowed. There are bathrooms in the building to the right of the slope. The trail begins once you cross the small footbridge and pass the soda machine. To the left, you should see a picnic table. Keep going toward the lake to a small building past the clearing and you will see a trail. The Menomine Trail also known as the Yellow Trail is a nice moderate hike that passes alongside Silver Mine Lake descends into a depression then ascends slightly to a plateau where you will go left and ascend steeply to find the William Brien Memorial Shelter.
The trail passes several large boulders in front of the lake with great views for selfies. Be careful with ticks if you sit down and avoid sitting on or near mossy areas. They like to hide there. As you hike through you will find several areas where you will have to walk across rocks. Those areas normally have water around them, hence the rocks to get you across. There are several sections where creeping water crosses the trail just before you begin to ascend in elevation. There are always downed trees on the trail but most of the time they are cleared right away.
Just before you turn left to ascend to the William Brien Memorial Shelter, there is a small stream. That stream passes through a metal culvert pipe which the trail passes over. In the winter the water sometimes rushes over the pipe and you will have to jump over to get to the other side. The hill to get to the shelter is sneaky and can get the better of you if you do not pace yourself. It is steep and goes on for a while before you arrive at the shelter. Once there, the shelter is carved into a rocky outcrop and is a great place to camp with four built-in wooden bunk racks. The racks are separated by a modest space where about five to seven campers can bed down in sleeping bags. Making fires inside the shelter is discouraged as there is no chimney to clear out the smoke. There is a rock fire ring in front of the shelter where you can make your fire. That will help keep you warm in the winter months.
I have gone to that shelter with two people or with ten people and it never gets old. There are trails that intersect the shelter so you will occasionally see people hiking past it. There are no sweeping views and you get the feeling that you are just in the middle of the forest. But the place is great in the snow, the only downside is the hill coming up to the site. It is slippery in the snow so you will need crampons to get there. I have a lot of history with the area given that as an instructor at the academy, we often used the area for mountain and land navigation training. I have trekked many miles in Harriman with cadets in tow learning how to survive in the cold weather. It has always been fun and informative.
The hike to the shelter is less than a mile on a moderately difficult trail. If you are in the area visit the shelter you’ll enjoy it. Very rarely you will see the West Point cadets as they learn orienting skills as part of their curriculum. The William Brien Lean-to Shelter is one of several in the area and it was renovated not too long ago. There are other shelters that have chimneys where you could keep yourself warm with a fire inside the shelter, but I like this one for its location and proximity. Camping there is awesome but if you get there and there are campers you can always camp around the shelter so bring a hiking tent just in case there is no room. Oh Yes, on your next hike stop by and say hello to the campers at the shelter. I am sure they will enjoy it. Safe trails…